NAHANT — The state will require Northeastern University to explain how it will minimize the environmental impact of constructing a 55,000-square-foot building on East Point.
The school will be required to draft an Environmental Impact Report that demonstrates how it will avoid, minimize and mitigate the environmental impacts of the expansion. The new building, which will be called the Coastal Sustainability Institute, will have classroom and research space.
The ruling was made by Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, in response to an Environmental Notification (ENF) filed by Northeastern in June.
More than 500 comments were submitted, including from U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, Sen. Brendan Crighton, Rep. Peter Capano, the Massachusetts Lobstermen Association, the Conservation Law Foundation, Mass Audubon, the Nahant Preservation Trust, the Nahant Board of Selectmen, the Nahant Conservation Commission, the Nahant Historical Commission and from Nahant residents.
Most commenters expressed concern with the facility’s location on East Point, including potential impacts on open space, wildlife and municipal infrastructure, according to the ruling.
Residents also worry about coastal damage, dramatic alterations of the town’s landscape and views, and increased traffic. The project would support doubling the campus’ population from 114 to 228.
“We have felt all along that Northeastern’s proposed expansion will have far-reaching, negative environmental impacts on the natural resource district of East Point,” Emily Potts, president of the Nahant Preservation Trust, said in a statement.
A petition in opposition of the project was also submitted along with 1,700 signatures.
The ENF filed by Northeastern outlines plans to begin construction this winter. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2021. In-water work is expected to occur in July 2020.
Northeastern acquired the property in 1966 from the U.S. government to create a marine research and teaching center, incorporating remnant military facilities into the campus. The existing bunker will be used as the new building’s foundation to limit the footprint and preserve open space. About 18,000 square feet would be buried underground. Above ground, more than 19,000 square feet will sit on the western side of Murphy Bunker and more than 17,650 square feet on the eastern portion.
“The proposed seawater system is an essential upgrade to the existing system and would be absolutely critical for the MSC’s research operation even if the CSI project was not being proposed,” according to the document.
The proposal is to upgrade to a 600-gallon-per-minute system, 75 percent less capacity than what the school requested last year. The existing intake pipes are significantly impacted by marine organisms, namely blue mussels, settling and fastening themselves to the interior of the pipes, which restricts the flow of water to less than 25 percent of design capacity, according to the document. The system is designed to have a flow rate of about 550 gallons-per-minute per pump, but it has been reduced to as low as 78 gallons per minute.
Pipes would extend about 400 feet from the seawall into Bathing Beach Cove. This is the same general location as existing intake lines.
Northeastern calculated that about five market-sized lobsters would be killed by the system per year. To mitigate the issue, the plan includes the construction of an onsite lobster hatchery to annually raise and release lobster larvae into the water.
A component of the project, using a portion of the seawater flow to cool or heat the new building, was removed from the proposal.
“The vast majority of residents are against the project as proposed based on the unquestionable environmental impacts on the East Point land and the Bathing Beach ocean floor,” said resident Diane Monteith. “Northeastern University has many other location options at their disposal and the university should reevaluate the Nahant expansion plan.”
The Environmental Impact Report will include a summary description of the project written in clear and non-technical language. Alternatives to the project, an assessment of its impacts, and mitigation measures to be taken to limit negative environmental impacts will also be included.
A copy of the report will be sent to each person or agency that commented on the ENF and a copy will be made available for review at the Nahant Public Library.